Vanessa Salopek: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur

Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is Vanessa Salopek, Owner of Calgary’s MARKET Restaurant. Though “local,” “seasonal” and “sustainable” are simply buzzwords thrown together to describe a dining trend, for MARKET it’s a commitment, a choice, and a way of life that Vanessa works meticulously towards on a daily basis…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business:
MARKET is a new restaurant located in the heart of 17th Avenue in Calgary. The idea of “Market Cuisine” stems from the French Canadian term “Cuisine du Marché,” which means cooking with fresh ingredients. 

To some, “local,” “seasonal” and “sustainable” are simply buzzwords thrown together to describe a dining trend, but for MARKET, it’s a commitment, a choice, and a way of life. MARKET is founded on the principles of community, relationships and ethics, paying homage to Alberta’s heritage by drawing from the seasonal resources that are found regionally. At MARKET, we live and breathe community in all that we do by building relationships with farmers, businesses and suppliers within the region who practice ethical, mindful and responsible stewardship. Our inspiration is derived from nature, the seasons, farmers and our own creativity. MARKET cuisine is modern and intelligent food, and respects local community, heritage and culture.

The philosophy behind MARKET is to further explore the meaning of local food and seasonal ingredients, and establish the true meaning of market fresh cuisine – where the menu changes as often as the seasons, based on the freshest ingredients available at that time. MARKET provides an arm’s reach approach to cooking by sourcing quality base ingredients regionally to produce bread and cheese in-house, to butcher and cure internally, and to grow our own greens and herbs with Calgary’s first commercial Urban Cultivator, an internal home garden. By producing these products in-house, it allows MARKET to take full control over what people eat and the quality of our food that we present. We believe in knowing what we are eating, where it came from and how it found its way to our table. If a quality ingredient cannot be made in-house, we will source it locally from within our region. If we can’t find it regionally, we will thoughtfully source it from ethical and sustainable partners in neighbouring provinces.

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
My job as the Owner of MARKET Restaurant is to oversee the overall operations and financial health of the establishment. My main responsibility is to ensure the restaurant is operating profitably by working with the upper management (Executive Chef & General Manager) to ensure costing, budgets, sales, and targets are all being reached. I report and answer to shareholders on the financial position of the restaurant and ensure I’m doing my due diligence as an owner to maximize profits and decrease costs. I also ensure the branding and marketing of MARKET is seen favourably within the industry and see that the standards of quality service and food are at the highest possible level. 

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I find that a lot of people go through life uncertain as to what career path to chose. I feel fortunate to have known at a young age that I wanted to open up my own restaurant. It was easy for me then to gain the right experience and education to make my dream a reality. I started in the restaurant industry at a very young age and have worked almost every position possible. I pursued business in university with a focus on marketing and entrepreneurship to get the proper education required to run a business. After university I secured a Marketing Director job with a hospitality company and was responsible for the marketing department of nine Boston Pizza locations in Calgary. By the age of 23, I was offered an ownership position with the new marquee location, Boston Pizza Chinook Centre. To date I am one of the youngest Boston Pizza franchisees. This ownership status opened a world of possibilities for me and I was able to leave my role with the hospitality company and start my own restaurant to pursue a concept that I truly believed in with MARKET.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part of my job is waking up every day and being able to do what I love. To me this isn’t a job, but a lifestyle that I’m incredibly passionate about. I love the people I work with and the guests that I encounter each day. I love that the harder I work, the more I see the benefits and results are directly correlated. I love being my own boss and holding myself accountable for outcomes.

The most challenging part is dealing with an industry that is very dependent on day-to-day sales. With such a saturated market for restaurants, each customer dollar counts and restaurants have to get more aggressive and competitive on how they appeal and attract customers. Calgary’s food and restaurant industry has grown and evolved from recent years, and gone are the days when one could just open in a good location with an award-winning chef and expect people to come in. We need to get creative, appeal to the demographic on a new level, and engage customers by providing amazing quality food and service from start to finish.

Where do you see your business going in five years?
In five years I see myself opening up another restaurant. My goal is to get MARKET to a position where we have a loyal clientele, brand recognition on a local and national level, sustainable sales, and can essentially run itself successfully without me being there to manage day-to-day operations. I dream of opening a new restaurant and continuing to grow as a restaurateur. There is still so much room for me to learn and grow within this industry.

What does success look like to you?
Success to me is measured in many ways. It can be measured in the ways in which one sets goals, surpasses them and keeps setting the bar higher. Or success can be based on reputation, respect and recognition within an industry. It can be measured by overcoming a challenging situation. On the other hand success is measured in the way I live my life full of happiness, health and balance. To me achieving success is waking up every day doing what I love, being proud of what I’ve accomplished, and living a balanced life between work and play, overcoming obstacles and being respected by those in the industry.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
My most memorable milestone has been when MARKET was nominated Best New Restaurant in Canada 2013 by enRoute Magazine. Only 35 restaurants were chosen nationwide with only three coming from Calgary. MARKET obtained this nomination after being open for five short months, making it the youngest nominated restaurant on the list.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
The biggest piece of advice I can offer a young professional is to never give up on your dreams. I know it sounds cliché but it is absolutely true. One of the greatest realizations one can grasp is that we can control the outcomes of our lives. If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen with a lot of hard work, passion and surrounding yourself with the right support group. The worst thing can happen is you fail, learn from your mistakes and try again. Experience is just as important as education and getting yourself out there networking is key. Building relationships with influencers in your industry is also important. You never know who you will meet and what doors and opportunities it will open for you. It won’t be easy, but then again the best things in life come from working hard and reaping the benefits!

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Through MARKET we support a variety of charities such as the Calgary Food Bank, The Alberta Kids Cancer Foundation, and a personal charity of mine is the Big Brother Big Sister Foundation (BBBSF). I am currently a member of the BBBSF and think these mentorship programs are so important to the development of our younger generation. Adolescence is a crucial time for people to discover who they are and where they want to go in life. Having a mentor and role model who you can look up to and help provide guidance is vital.

What to you is notable?
Notable to me means something that is out of the ordinary, stands out and grabs attention.

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How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
I find the secret to keeping active, energetic and vibrant is balance. It’s important for me to lead a balanced life of work, play, and exercise. In the restaurant industry it easy to overwork, eat unhealthy, and skip sleep and exercise. I get my much-needed R&R by dining out at some of Calgary’s fantastic restaurants, and attending as many music festivals as my schedule will allow!